When Was Your Last Career Conversation?

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A client I worked with ten years ago recently reached out to me to share some challenging news. She was called into a conference room and informed that her position was being eliminated because of a recent merger and she would be let go. After she shared all the ugly details, I asked her if in the past year, she had had any career conversations with her manager and she just laughed.

This situation is more common than uncommon, but these career conversations are important. Over my many years of coaching, I have seen that many of my clients are so busy with the day-to-day of their career that being proactive about career planning goes on the back burner. It is essential to take time a few times a year to think about what is going well, what is missing, and what may be an opportunity area for you. Don’t wait until things go sour or you become bored because you may find that you miss out on opportunities or don’t have the energy to make the needed change. By keeping your manager updated on what you want for yourself, he or she can be supportive and keep you in mind for upcoming projects or positions.

When I presented at the Career Thought Leaders Conference in Madrid in May, I attended an excellent session on career conversations by Antoinette Oglethorpe, who is a coach in the UK. Her session, How to Help Employees Take Ownership of Their Careers, focused on the importance of career conversations, and not just once a year. I enjoyed her session because we both believe that employees need to take the reins, be proactive about their careers, and not be afraid to have those challenging conversations.

Antoinette highlighted four key characteristics of highly effective career conversations:

  1. Not necessarily with “the boss”: As you think about your career, you may find that some of your most effective career conversations were not with your manager. I know that has been true for me and for many of my coaching clients. What is most important is that you have an individual who will listen to you, be objective, and has no underlying agenda. At some point, you need to get your manager on board, but it can be helpful to reach out to others first.
  2. Often take place informally: Excellent career conversations often happen when we least expect them. We may be having lunch or meeting with a colleague about a project and there is time for another brief conversation to share career insights. Think about the person you are meeting with in advance. How can you add value for them and what is one insight you would like to get from them?
  3. Don’t have to take a long time: My clients often tell me that they want and need to be sensitive to how busy colleagues’ and customers’ schedules are. I agree but if you have a specific question for which you need feedback, you can find value in a conversation of less than fifteen minutes. Keep your conversations short but take time to prepare.
  4. Provide different levels of support at different times: You need to have different career conversations depending on where you are in your career, and if you manage others, where they are in their career. If you are starting on a new project, the conversations are going to be different than if you are looking for possible opportunities internally in your organization or externally.

When I think about my first “real” career position, this was one of my biggest mistakes. I was excellent at pursuing professional training but did not realize it was my job to be proactive and discuss my career with my manager. I thought a good work ethic and giving 100% would automatically take care of my career. I learned this career lesson the hard way, seeing less competent colleagues receive promotions.

Our careers cannot be in automatic pilot mode. Being proactive is a strategy we should continue to practice. Take time today to reflect on what you want your future career to look like and how being proactive can help you achieve that.

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